Since the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) last March, women’s hockey in North America has been in a state of flux. A new exhibition at the Orillia Museum of Art and History takes a look at the current issues surrounding women’s hockey while also delving into over 100 years of women breaking barriers in the sport.
The Orillia Museum of Art and History is hosting the exhibition “She Shoots… She Scores!” from Jan. 25 to April 11. The museum is also hosting a special reception for the exhibition on Jan. 25, featuring three special guests from the world of women’s hockey. Former players Nathalie Rivard and Liz Knox will join current Team Canada member Brianne Jenner to discuss the progression of the sport. The exhibition has been in the works since the museum hosted their “Breakaway” exhibition in 2018, according to communications coordinator and exhibition co-curator Heather Price-Jones.
“Breakaway” showcased defining moments in hockey history through memorabilia, objects and art from the Hockey Hall of Fame. It featured local men’s teams as well as professional men’s hockey players and teams, Price-Jones said, with some references to big names in women’s hockey such as Hayley Wickenheiser and Angela James.
“It didn’t really go into the history of women’s hockey, so we had this exhibition planned as of that time,” Price-Jones said. “The timing has worked out absolutely perfectly because there’s no time like now to be talking about women’s hockey, and it needs it more than ever.”
Price-Jones played house league hockey as a child and has been an avid hockey fan ever since. She said most of her recent involvement with hockey was watching the NHL and the Olympics until she heard about the CWHL ceasing operations last March.
“When the league collapsed last year, it was really eye-opening for me,” she said. “Now to be able to do so much research into it and get such personal stories, it’s been really empowering to hear what these women have been through and what they’re continuing to do.”
Price-Jones felt that it was important to highlight women’s hockey separate from the men’s side of the sport. It’s something all on its own that deserves attention and respect, she said, with players that are “resilient beyond belief.” Three of those players, Rivard, Knox and Jenner, will be attending the reception to discuss women’s hockey and its history.
“They’re all three of them working forward to the future of women’s hockey, and they’re not really doing it for themselves,” Price-Jones said. “They don’t care if they get paid. They don’t care if they get these rights, but they want young girls to have something to look forward to.”
Nathalie Rivard, a former member of the Canadian women’s national hockey team and a three-time World Champion, said that when she was a 20-year-old player experiencing her first World Championship in 1992, she thought a sustainable professional women’s league would have been established by now.
“We sit here quite a few years later and we’re still looking for those opportunities,” Rivard said. “You’d think by now it would have materialized, but that’s not the case. We still have some work to do.”
Rivard, who now works as a staff sergeant for the OPP, acts as a coach and mentor for young women in hockey, which she believes is part of her responsibility to give back to the game as an athlete. She also believes in the importance of sharing her experiences as a female hockey player and helping spread awareness of the state of women’s hockey in Canada.
“A lot of people go about their day to day not really realizing that we don’t have a professional women’s hockey league, and it’s not only about having that female [national hockey] league, but it’s about providing the players of that caliber with opportunities to compete and play against other players,” Rivard said. “If it stops at a certain level, it’s going to hinder the natural progression of the sport.”
Liz Knox, former CWHL goaltender for the Markham Thunder, also helps bring attention to issues surrounding women’s hockey as a board member for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA). The PWHPA formed following the collapse of the CWHL to advocate for the creation of a single, viable professional women’s hockey league in North America.
“Any opportunity we have to talk about our journey and where we are in history right now is a huge privilege,” Knox said. “I feel very grateful that I get to be one of those voices to tell our story.”
Knox said that while the reception and exhibition provides an opportunity to honour trailblazers of the game, it’s also important to consider those who may not be known by name. For many women, whether they’re Indigenous or from small communities, they played at a time when it was deemed unacceptable, which deserves tremendous respect, she said.
“We don’t have names for those people,” Knox said. “As we are so excited about the future of women’s hockey, it’s also an important time to reflect on the privilege that we have, and be conscious of that moving forward and creating space for more young female athletes to compete and excel and find their true passion.”
Brianne Jenner, an Olympic gold and silver medalist and a current member of Team Canada, agrees that it’s an exciting time for the sport and says that 20 years down the line, she hopes it will be considered a momentous year for women’s hockey.
“We’ve been the fastest growing sport in North America for many, many years and there’s so many girls playing hockey now and picking up the game because of the women that paved the way,” Jenner said. “I think we’re going to continue to see that growth and to be a part of it and be a part of that story is something I don’t take for granted.”
Jenner, who serves alongside Knox as a board member for the PWHPA, said she’s looking forward to the reception as a way to pay tribute to pioneers in women’s hockey while also drawing attention to where the game needs to grow.
“We want to leave our game better than when we found it, and we want to create another dream for young girls that they can play professionally. That’s our goal, and that’s what motivates us,” Jenner said. “Right now, we know what we’re doing isn’t necessarily going to benefit our generation and our current players, but we’re hoping to benefit the next generations.”